Dir: Guillermo Del Toro
Script: Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ariadna Gil, Álex Angulo
In war torn post-Civil War Spain, Ofelia (Baquero) and her pregnant mother Carmen are taken under wing of the fascist and spiteful Captain Vidal (López). After discovering an ancient labyrinth in the nearby woods, Ofelia meets the faun Pan (Jones), who believes her to be the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, daughter to the king of the underworld, and assigns her three tasks to ensure her predecessor’s essence is intact.
Essentially a remake of Victor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive, Pan’s Labyrinth is a labour of love stemmed from a fanatical childhood fascination with monsters, a visually grimy, gothic fairy tale reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s finest. Wartime drama and mythical horror coexist with astonishing effect.
While Pan’s fantastical scenes are amalgamated from Guillermo Del Toro’s work on Chronos, Mimic and Hellboy, in tone and setting the film is closer to his most personal piece, The Devil’s Backbone, substituting the ghost-story elements for a harrowing, ethereal mythos that harkens back to the gruesome morality of pre-Grimm European children’s stories. Much like The Devil’s Backbone, the evil here is entirely human, the actions carried out under Captain Vidal’s callous rule resonant long after Pan’s creatures have sunk back into the shadows.
11-year old Ivana Baquero effortlessly leads an impeccable cast. Like much of Guillermo’s more intimate catalogue, there is a strong female presence throughout, with Maribel Verdú (Y Tu Mamá También) as Mercedes, the compassionate revolutionary and substitute maternal figure, providing a perspective from both sides, catalytic to the foreshadowed insurrection that will have devastating effects for all involved. Young Ofeila’s rite of passage barely affects Vidal’s efforts against the rebels; she is simply another inevitable victim.
Doug Jones (Hellboy’s Abe Sapien) performs dual monster roles; the benevolent, earthly Pan and the briefly seen but unforgettable Pale Man. Sergi López plays the emotionally vacant Vidal with a simmering, concealed intensity that makes the character as intriguing and unpredictable as he is despicable.
Indicated from the first scene, Ofelia’s journey will not end happily ever after. It’s this tragic, textual and heart-breaking gravitas that solidifies Pan’s as an instant classic. Del Toro’s elaborate, visionary fantasies play second fiddle to an intimate portrayal of the irrepressible idealism of youth during volatile times. Are the fantasy sequences real? It really doesn’t matter.
Pan’s Labyrinth offers a unique twist on multiple genres, a fairy tale for grown-ups about the power of the imagination against fascist rule, of free spirit overcoming all adversity, through life and beyond. Revolutionary.